Elementary School Slavery Play
June 16, 2008 8:56 AM   Subscribe

This is what happens when you ask a bunch of fifth-graders to write a play about slavery. The teacher claims the only advice he gave them was "Keep working, it isn't good enough." [via]

My current favorite line: Going once....Going twice.... sold to the man with the whip in his hand. (Grabs another slave.)
posted by marxchivist (46 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Larrson get over hear and hook up the cattle!
posted by delmoi at 9:07 AM on June 16, 2008


I am unsure if this is better or worse than the average Grade 5 class but I do prefer it to anything Diablo Cody has ever written.
posted by mazola at 9:08 AM on June 16, 2008 [16 favorites]


What's up with the background?
posted by iamkimiam at 9:11 AM on June 16, 2008


You're lucky Tubman . . . this time!
posted by grobstein at 9:14 AM on June 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


I really like it. No stilted "period" language. Also the bit where she hides in the closet but it's pretty much the most obvious hiding place ever. So true.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:17 AM on June 16, 2008


"Keep working, it isn't good enough"

Damn uppity fifth-graders
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 9:17 AM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


I love how Sarah finds out where Harriet and Abby live by sending them a gift basket. I wish the postal service really worked that way.
posted by zerbinetta at 9:23 AM on June 16, 2008


Narrator: Harriet runs away from her slave owner Master James and heads North to become a spy for the Union while looking for Addy.

Harriet: I'm so glad I got away from my slave owner, but what am I going to do? I think I'm going to become a member of the Union army. I'll be a spy and on the way I'll look for Addy.

Narrator: THAT'S WHAT I JUST SAID! That's it. I quit.
posted by yeti at 9:31 AM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


Not enough explosions.
posted by spicynuts at 9:33 AM on June 16, 2008


"Keep working, it isn't good enough"

Damn uppity fifth-graders
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94


I wanted to make a similar comment about the same line in the original post but couldn't think of how to frame it. Thank you East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94.

I think this play came out pretty good. I'm glad they emphasized that slavery sucked and was a bad thing. I would not have been totally surprised if they had produced something about the happy slaves defending the plantations from the evil Yankees. Heck, these kids won't be far from this ... thing.
posted by marxchivist at 9:43 AM on June 16, 2008


Master Whip is totally going to be my new puppet account name.
posted by hellojed at 9:52 AM on June 16, 2008 [2 favorites]


This wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, and falls more into the "Hey, let's make fun of kids!" camp than the "Hey, kids in Florida have twisted ideas about slavery! Let's laugh at them, but also weep!" camp.

And, you know, making fun of kids has its limits, so I'll show some restraint, but Sarah's dialogue in Scene II is just brilliant.
---
Sarah: Yes sir,but I have to walk a mile to get this information.

Sarah: The oatmeal meal is ready and so is the bread.

Sarah: (Walks outside to Mr.Thompson) Breakfast.....come and get it before it gets cold get your oatmeal and bread.

Sarah: Oatmeal or no meal, but I've got to go! (She sits the tray down)
---

Side question: Any guesses what song they sung at the end?
posted by SpiffyRob at 9:55 AM on June 16, 2008


This reminds me of a good story on NPR recently about a Colonial Williamsburg interpreter who pretends to be a slave as her day job. The character is based on historical accounts of a real woman who was a slave there in colonial times. So there's a decent amount of information and historical context to work with, but the interpreter interacts with visitors every day while in character, and while there are some key events, there's no script. She talked about the difference between being herself and being in character-- how she has to be able to get into the head of someone with no freedom and live there and in that world for much of the day but then step away and fully back into herself. It was one of the more realistic sounding depictions of slavery by a modern person that I'm aware of.
posted by Tehanu at 10:00 AM on June 16, 2008


I think if I ever eat oatmeal again, it shall be an "oatmeal meal".
posted by Talanvor at 10:20 AM on June 16, 2008


A better slavery lesson than one I got in 8th grade.

Mr. Mittleholtz actually attempted to enslave us. At the beginning of class, he made the class stack our desks up near one wall and made us all get into the small space behind them and be quiet. When we weren't quiet enough, after 30 minutes, complaining about the benefit of this lesson not being adequate for its safety risks, protesting the loss of a class period of informational learning, etc. he yelled and yelled at us to shut up, stupid ignorant brats, and then kept us in all through lunch writing out dictionary definitions for "insolent," "idiot," "manners," etc. The passive agresssion element was too odd, and I remember crying from the stress of being yelled at by a large man, something that's always made me afraid. I don't know if he lacked foresight or just didn't care, but the whole class haaaaaaated him for the rest of the year.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 10:39 AM on June 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Oatmeal or no meal, but I've got to go!

That is going to be what I say when I am in a rush from now on.
posted by Falconetti at 10:44 AM on June 16, 2008 [14 favorites]


What's up with the background?
posted by iamkimiam at 9:11 AM on June 16 [+] [!]


Well, the title of the page is "PB Civil War play." So Union and Confederate flags make perfect sense in that context.
posted by the other side at 11:00 AM on June 16, 2008


A better slavery lesson than one I got in 8th grade.

Hell, *my* 8th grade teacher actually told us that black people really were better suited to working in hot conditions, with little food or water, all day long -- since that's how they do it in Africa anyway.

Goooooooo Texas!
posted by mudpuppie at 11:25 AM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I loved it! Thanks for posting. (And the clumsy, unintentionally funny dialog is really not that much more obvious and hammy than what passes for writing in many of today's scripted TV shows.)
posted by applemeat at 11:28 AM on June 16, 2008


do they mention the white slaves working to relieve unpayable debts from Europe ? or was the play only about black slave purchasing ?
posted by unpoppy at 11:37 AM on June 16, 2008


is it just me seeing the delicious irony in that whole thing?
posted by sxtxixtxcxh at 11:51 AM on June 16, 2008


I see M. Night has gotten some needed help for his new script: "The Slavening."

Much improved!
posted by Debaser626 at 12:19 PM on June 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


do they mention the white slaves working to relieve unpayable debts from Europe ? or was the play only about black slave purchasing ?

Yes, this five page play put together by 20 fifth-graders found the time to go into indentured servitude and transatlantic debts in pre-Civil War America.
posted by Falconetti at 12:24 PM on June 16, 2008 [10 favorites]


do they mention the white slaves working to relieve unpayable debts from Europe ? or was the play only about black slave purchasing ?

You might try reading it, it's not that long.

Hint: no, they don't talk about it.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:25 PM on June 16, 2008


I liked it. The sentiment was pure, and there were some unintentional comedy gems, like the fact that the wagons were pulled by cows.
posted by emd3737 at 12:33 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Needs more cowbell. And Christopher Walken.
posted by bwg at 12:34 PM on June 16, 2008


God damn it. I was going to name my blender company Master Whip.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:52 PM on June 16, 2008


My friend Brandi believes they based this play around an American Girl doll. Which I think makes it that much more excllent.
posted by Astro Zombie at 12:54 PM on June 16, 2008


Thank you, slaves!
posted by contraption at 1:13 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Reading the play helped transport me back to a time when I was young enough to not yet have a conception of the true depths of human depravity you would actually experience in situations such as those depicted in this play. E.g. the lack of senseless, brutal beatings. Though I think that idea is probably in my mind due to having just read this article.

It made for a bittersweet experience. I wish the truly bad things in the world could only have to be as bad as they are in this play. It would be a start.
posted by Brak at 1:22 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


That's not to imply that slavery isn't one of the truly bad things. Rather, I wish slavery were only as bad as depicted here, if we couldn't just skip straight to not having slavery at all.
posted by Brak at 1:25 PM on June 16, 2008


I remember some of the things I wrote in 5th grade, and by comparison this is pretty amazing.

I couldn't help laughing at "Going once....Going twice.... sold to the man with the whip in his hand" though.
posted by joannemerriam at 1:29 PM on June 16, 2008


do they mention the white slaves working to relieve unpayable debts from Europe ? or was the play only about black slave purchasing ?

Curiously enough, the concept of race seems to be completely absent. Which makes me strangely hopeful for the future.
posted by squidlarkin at 1:52 PM on June 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


As a former teacher, all I can say is that this play is one hell of an achievement.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:01 PM on June 16, 2008


do they mention the white slaves working to relieve unpayable debts from Europe ? or was the play only about black slave purchasing ?

What is your point? These are fifth graders. Seems like a strange comment about something it takes about a minute and a half to read first.
posted by marxchivist at 2:50 PM on June 16, 2008


"Keep working, it isn't good enough." isn't much of a teaching method.

The teacher probably could have helped them out quite a bit (and, you know, taught them something about writing a play) by actually helping with some basic language skills and conventions of modern drama, e.g. You don't need the narrator to tell you what the audience can see. Or what yeti said.

Narrator: Harriet is now in the Army as a spy and. Harriet is dressed up as an old lady.

I'm trying to think of the stories I wrote for school in 5th grade. This isn't absolutely horrible, but it is sorta banal. I feel rickrolled. What's so remarkable again? Was it supposed to be terrible?

On second read it is pretty bad, but for 11 yos, eh. The "Civil War play" is a pretty crap assignment. I would have bullshitted it myself in 5th grade.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:29 PM on June 16, 2008


jesus christ people it's a play written by 5th graders. i am sorry that it is not shakespeare, but between being prepped for NCLB assessments and actually taking the damn assessments, i'm just glad that these kids had the time to write it at all
posted by dismas at 4:12 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


For a grade 5 class this is pretty outstanding.
posted by mek at 4:41 PM on June 16, 2008


Ambrosia Voyeur:

That reminds me of my 8th grade Holocaust lesson, which was actually quite powerful.

The two separate history classes which had that hour were both shepherded into one room which was designed to seat one single class. And by "shepherded in" I mean, "screamed and shouted at while being forcefully shoved into whatever seat was available, and then forced to sit uncomfortably on the floor if no seats were available.

There was a very clear aisle down the center of the room, which no one was allowed to sit in, and the first thing the teacher (Mrs. Thrall) after angrily quieting us was that the left side of the room was going to be sent to the gas chamber. I was on the right side of the room, and even though the artifice was clear, the experience of the last five minutes had still left us all kind of shaken, so I felt lucky.

The lights were kept off for the entire hour and a half (we were on block scheduling, which is how all schools should run, really) with one single dim light for us to be able to read the chalkboard by. Mrs. Thrall led the lecture (there was no discussion) while the other available teachers paced the aisle and interrupted the class to reprimand any student talking as intimidatingly as possible. After a couple of minutes, no one said a word.

The most interesting thing about the lesson was that Mrs. Thrall didn't just focus on the events in the concentration camps, nor the timeline, but instead on the general movements and philosophies which got Germany to the place where they could permit and endorse such action. The lesson wasn't just, "This is what happened," but also, "This is what could happen again."

This was in Texas, but I guess Texas can get it right once in a while.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:44 PM on June 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Other subjects not addressed by this play:
  • The socio-economic conditions that led to the creation of the Magna Carta
  • The JFK assassination
  • New Coke
  • Oatmeal as a breakfast food. Oh, wait, that's in there.
posted by dirigibleman at 7:48 PM on June 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Keep working, it isn't good enough." isn't much of a teaching method.

Actually, it is - it's called Mastery Learning. As a teaching method, it is VERY challenging, and there is a lot more to it than the teacher in this instance is letting on.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:17 AM on June 17, 2008


"(Sing Song and then bow)" is the "Exit, pursued by a bear" of our time.
posted by Spatch at 5:58 AM on June 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


The most interesting thing about the lesson was that Mrs. Thrall didn't just focus on the events in the concentration camps, nor the timeline, but instead on the general movements and philosophies which got Germany to the place where they could permit and endorse such action. The lesson wasn't just, "This is what happened," but also, "This is what could happen again."

In my high school U.S. history class, two students gave a presentation on Nanking and we were each given an index card, text-side down, and instructed to flip it over at the end of the presentation. The card described our fates in some detail and in rough proportion to what happened to the population there. It was pretty brutal.

But more importantly, I had a hell of a history teacher. We always learned the causes to things. And not in a trite way, but rather complexly. We always read some primary sources in addition to the textbook. Letters from soldiers writing home to describe what life was like on the American frontier and how well the genocide was going. It became abundantly clear that history was not just a footnote, or the result of past ignorance unseen in modern times, but people's actions that made total sense to many of them at the time. And that some of these things could and would happen again unless people learned some perspective. And the older I get, the more I realize that most people around me don't seem to have had such a teacher. It disturbs me. Almost as much as reading some of those writings did then.
posted by Tehanu at 7:05 AM on June 17, 2008


I've read better plays. These kids should be ashamed for producing poor quality work. And the plot was crappy too. Also I think the Mother's character wasn't believable at all.
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:56 AM on June 17, 2008


I don't know. I think it has a decent shot off-Broadway.
posted by Tehanu at 8:01 AM on June 17, 2008


This says more to me about the perils of committee writing than anything else.
posted by Ms. Informed at 11:56 AM on June 18, 2008


« Older Steampunk recumbent.   |   Farm life in 1910 Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments